Assessing the Malnourished HorseBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 27, 2012
When a malnourished horse is presented for nutritional rehabilitation, the person who is caring for the horse should make a full assessment of the horse’s condition. The assessment should include taking photographs, recording body condition scores, and determining the horse’s weight. An equine scale will give a more exact result than a weight tape, which is not accurate for horses in poor body condition.
Start a journal. Find out as much as you can about the horse's living conditions prior to his arrival at the rehabilitation facility. If you saw the previous location firsthand, write down everything you remember, and take a photo if possible. If the horse had access to any food, find out what type. Inspect or take samples if possible. Find out whether the horse was confined to a stall or small pen, or had the ability to move around outside. This information will be important when determining how to house the horse initially.
Companionship. Even if the horse was kept in a pasture with others, this scenario might not be best during the horse’s recovery. Introducing a malnourished horse to an unfamiliar horse, or into a herd with an established order, is setting up his already weak and frail body for injury or delayed recuperation. The horse can be housed in a stall or paddock with neighbors, but you should not put him in a position where he will have to fight for food or water while recovering. Once the horse is well on the road to recovery he can be turned out with another horse, preferably one that is calm and patient.
Veterinary history. If the horse was voluntarily surrendered, a vaccination and deworming history might be available. If the horse was confiscated, veterinary records may exist in a case file or be subject to subpoena. Do not deworm the horse immediately. Have a veterinarian do a fecal egg count as part of his physical exam and assessment of the horse. If the horse has a large infestation of worms, improper deworming may inadvertently result in a deterioration of condition or even death.
Well-being examination. Have a veterinarian or dentist perform a thorough dental examination. If possible, address any dental problems that might inhibit the horse's ability to eat comfortably. Examine the horse's coat, and attend to any skin problems such as rain rot. In cold weather, consider blanketing, which can conserve valuable calories, and provide shelter from the wind and inclement weather. In hot weather, be sure there is adequate shade and consider using fans.